The Whole Forest for the Trees Bit
Here’s my rambling response to the David Orr piece I posted this morning (below).
I contend that “greatness” has left our collective imagination, and that it’s time for it to return (because it really hasn’t left, it’s just gotten warped into other things—into professionalism, for one, but there are others).
Now to say “greatness has left our collective imagination” is not to say necessarily that great poets have left—who knows—any number of poets writing now might be great and we just haven’t realized it yet—I would, by the way, nominate both Michael Palmer and Rae Armantrout as great poets (but I certainly could be wrong). And there’s always the frightening possibility that Billy Collins is great, and I’m busy off looking at the wallpaper. Yikes.
But enough of that. Right now, I’m more interested in the reception of “greatness” in our post-great times, where perhaps we are or are not, as poets, worth our weight in balloons.
The fact that the creative imagination is alive and well in American poetry is everywhere manifest, but the discussion, the real discussion about this imagination is everywhere lacking. One of the main reasons Ashbery is now sitting on the X of greatness has as much to do with people actually talking about his work as it does the work (or his or its aspirations) itself. Harold Bloom helped greatly this notion of Ashbery’s greatness. Of course, in my estimation, the work deserved it, but that doesn’t change that to be great one has to be considered great, and to be considered great one has to be talked about as, well, great.
Writers (mostly poets!) these days have a strong aversion to talking about greatness. Well, I think it’s time to pony up, everybody. We are in a pockets-of-interest time where, if we’re going to talk about poetry it’s either going to be to pitch a panel for AWP about how to sell and market a book, or to celebrate an aspect of the biography of ourselves or others. It’s all well and good to celebrate types of poetry that are reflected in their content, and it’s all well and good to talk about getting published, but I think we could and should do more with what we find truly great in the art of others. The “20 Books” meme that went around facebook last week is a wonderful example of this. It is creating a small but interesting conversation about what our personal reading lists consist of. It’s just one step from that to the next: where is greatness.
We’re in times that call for a large imagination. As goes politics, so must go culture. Here’s is how some poets are attempting to join that cultural conversation:
It’s another sign of hope.
I think that the conversations around postmodernism have, by illustrating all the failures of Modernism, propagated them on a smaller stage, and now that we are done with both, I feel it’s much less interesting to continue to think of hybrids and ghosts, than it is to actually have a conversation about the point we’re making, and to point to the future. I think the poets are already there, it’s just that we’re talking about ourselves with all the wrong words. Or something like that.
I don’t mean this to sound like a rant. If it does, then I’m missing my point, even if what my point is is a bit elusive. And obviously I’m not (I promise) thinking we should all start writing poems about the president (though there might be a bit [ouch] of truth in the accusation that poets these days have more interest in flashy wits than we do in having a point). But I do think we should be reading and talking about poetry in more productive ways, ways that might lead to us actually realizing the worth of some of the great poetry that we have before us.